Ethnology and the Search for Origins
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The formation and nature of Englishness has been, and continues to be, in the context of multicultural societies and globalization, extensively debated. And since the cultural prominence of identity politics, it has almost become a cliche to say national identity, like 'ever-shifting sand', has fluid meanings. One of the most powerful myths of the origin of English national identity is Anglo-Saxonism, also known as Teutonism or Gothicism. In Victorian Britain this particular strain of racial myth, partly facilitated by the development of historiography, was culturally dominant. The characteristics of the myth are summarized by Hugh MacDougall:
From the sixteenth century onwards a conviction had gradually formed in the Englishman's mind that he was peculiarly manly, honorable, apt for leadership and that his social institutions, of ancient Saxon pedigree, were superior to those of any other people.(89)
Myths of national origin work to reinforce social identity by rooting a belief system which sanctions that society's attitudes. If a 'nation' is an imaginary construct, as Benedict Anderson ( 1991) has notably argued, then it relies on an array of cultural fictions. The basis of this myth-laying, though, is the assumption of a uniform, or at least integrated, society. For industrialization to be successful the pretence of a homogenized culture needs to be maintained and this is expressed in the form of nationalism (Gellner, 1983).